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A Mother's Prayer

Masay (Numbers 33-36 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

An accidental murderer is required to flee to a city of refuge and remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol (Numbers 35:25). The Mishnah (Makkos 11a) teaches that in order to ensure that they wouldn't pray for the death of the Kohen Gadol, which would free them to return to their homes, the Kohen Gadol's mother would send them food and clothing. This is difficult to understand. As much as the accidental murderers appreciated the parcels, they surely valued their potential freedom even more. If so, in what way did sending them "care packages" prevent them from eating the food and then proceeding to pray for the death of the Kohen Gadol? Must the two activities be mutually exclusive?

Rabbi Shlomo Eisenblatt derives from here a beautiful lesson in the importance of sincere and genuine prayer. He explains that the goal of the Kohen Gadol's mother was to make sure that her son remained alive and did not die prematurely through the prayers of the accidental murderers for his death. In other words, her focus was not to guarantee that nobody would pray for the death of her son, which would have been unrealistic, but rather to ensure that even if they did pray, their petitions would be denied. How did she accomplish this?

Rabbi Eisenblatt explains that the power of a pure and truly heartfelt prayer is so great that even if it is uttered by somebody whose carelessness resulted in the death of another Jew, and even if his request is for something as audacious as the death of the Kohen Gadol, if he cries out to God with all of his heart, he may well be answered. Although the feelings of gratitude that the accidental murderers felt toward the mother of the Kohen Gadol may not have been sufficient to stop them from praying altogether, they were enough to ensure that they would be unable to pray with their entire hearts, and the smallest reduction in the purity and intensity of their petitions was enough to prevent them from being answered.

Many times in life we call out to God with tremendous passion and fervor. When doing so, we should remember the lesson of the Kohen Gadol's mother and examine whether we are indeed doing so with all of our hearts, for the small disparity between 100% and 99% concentration can mean the difference between having our requests granted or denied.

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Rashi explains (Numbers 35:14) that although 9½ tribes lived in the land of Israel proper and only 2½ tribes lived on the other side of the Jordan River, the Torah nevertheless required that the six cities of refuge be evenly divided between the two regions due to the fact that there were a disproportionate number of intentional murderers living on the other side of the Jordan. Of what relevance is the prevalence of intentional murderers to the cities of refuge, which only provide protection to those who kill accidentally and not to intentional killers?

Nachmanides and Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi answer that the intentional murderers cunningly arranged for their actions to appear unintentional. Since there was no way to know which accidental murders were truly unplanned in the absence of witnesses, all of them had to flee to the cities of refuge.

The Daas Z'keinim and Sifsei Chochomim cite the Talmud (Makkos 10b) which teaches that when somebody murders intentionally without witnesses, God brings him together with somebody who killed accidentally without witnesses. He causes the inadvertent killer to slip while climbing a ladder, killing in the process of his fall the intentional murderer who was sitting underneath. This will happen in the presence of witnesses, thereby forcing the accidental killer to go to a city of refuge, while the murderer gets executed as he deserves. As such, an area with many murderers requires many cities of refuge to which those who fall on them may flee.

The Gur Aryeh and Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch (Taam V'Daas) explain that in an area in which cold-blooded murder is a regular occurrence, the value for human life will automatically be diminished. Although the inhabitants won't sink to the level of serial killers, they will no longer exercise the appropriate care when engaged in dangerous activities. The inevitable result of this lack of caution will be an increase in the number of accidental murderers, who will need to flee to the cities of refuge.

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One who kills accidentally is required to flee to one of the cities of refuge and to remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol (Numbers 35:25). The Talmud (Makkos 9b) rules that two Torah scholars must escort him to the city of refuge in order to protect him from the avenger of the blood should they encounter one another before the murderer reaches the safety of the city of refuge. Why did they send two Torah scholars instead of two strong men, who would presumably be more successful in protecting him from the angry blood-redeemer?

Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik of Zurich (V'Ha'Ish Moshe) explains that sending brawny men to escort and guard the accidental murderer on his way to the city of refuge wouldn't be productive. When the blood-redeemer becomes aware that the person against whom his wrath is directed is being protected by two burly men, he will simply counter by attacking with four men who are even more powerful, with the ultimate result being an all-out war. Instead, the Sages directed that the accidental murderer be accompanied by two Torah scholars. Their purpose was not to physically defend him, but rather to pacify the blood-redeemer in the event that they encountered him by explaining to him that the murderer's actions were accidental and it would be inappropriate to respond by intentionally killing him.

The Talmud (Brachos 64a) teaches that Torah scholars possess a unique ability to bring peace to the world. The lesson that can be derived from here is that if a person attempts to resolve a dispute in a calm and peaceful manner, he significantly increases his odds of the other party responding in kind, but if he opts to pursue an approach of overpowering and defeating the other person, he will most likely end up enraging him, which will only escalate the conflict.

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The Torah requires a daughter who inherits land from her father to marry somebody from her father's tribe to prevent the ownership of the land from being transferred to another tribe upon her death (Numbers 36:7-9). Although the Torah seems to require the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry men from their father's tribe (Menashe) for this reason, the Talmud (Bava Basra 120a) teaches that this wasn't a commandment, but rather a piece of good advice that God told Moshe to give them. As this section of the Torah was taught in response to the argument of the tribe of Menashe (36:1-4) that the marriage of the daughters of Tzelafchad to men from other tribes would bring about a reduction in the size of their tribal land, why wasn't this advice indeed made an obligation incumbent upon them?

The Steipler answers by noting that Maimonides rules (Nachalos 1:8) that a husband only inherits his wife's possessions through a later Rabbinical enactment. If one of the daughters of Tzelafchad married a man from another tribe, there was no fear that her land would pass over to him. The only way for the land to pass to another tribe would be in a case where her son, whose tribe is determined by his father, inherits it from her.

The Talmud teaches that each of the daughters of Tzelafchad was already over the age of 40 at this time. The Talmud questions this claim by noting that if it were true, they would no longer be able to biologically bear children. The Talmud answers that although this should have been the case, God made a miracle for them due to their righteousness and allowed them to have children.

In light of this, it is difficult to understand why the tribe of Menashe argued that the daughters of Tzelafchad shouldn't be allowed to marry men from other tribes. Their husbands wouldn't inherit the land, and they weren't biologically capable of having children who might inherit it. We must conclude that their tribesmen recognized their piety and feared that they may miraculously give birth to sons.

However, this miracle could only take place before God gave the commandment regarding the transfer of tribal property. Once this mitzvah was given, there was no longer any basis for worry. In the event that the daughters of Tzelafchad would ignore God's preference and marry men from another tribe, they would no longer be considered sufficiently righteous to merit the miraculous birth of sons, which would result in the transfer of their tribal land.

With this understanding, it is now clear that there was no prohibition for the daughters of Tzelafchad to marry men from another tribe. Their husbands wouldn't inherit their land, and they wouldn't give birth to sons who could inherit it, thus leaving the land firmly in the hands of their relatives from the tribe of Menashe. Nevertheless, God gave them a piece of "good advice." If they married men from the tribe of Menashe, they could miraculously merit children, as in that case the children's inheritance would pose no threat to the ownership of the tribal land.

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